We are accustomed to believe that certain foods have a set list of health benefits and that those benefits are retained no matter how we use said foods in our cooking. Unfortunately, this is not exactly how it works in real life, as certain foods can lose their nutritional potency when mixed with other ingredients.
One such example, the one we will discuss in this article, is tomatoes, which, despite having a multitude of health benefits, can lose some of their beneficial effects on the human body when combined with iron-rich foods. More specifically, lycopene, an immensely potent carotenoid antioxidant naturally present in tomatoes, can become less bioavailable when mixed with iron-rich foods, according to a recent study.
How Does Iron Decrease the Anticancer Effect of Lycopene?
Tomatoes can offer a lot of health benefits to our cardiovascular system, our eyesight and our skin, but one of the most remarkable properties tomatoes have is their ability to prevent cancer. Researchers have managed to isolate one compound - lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant that was found experimentally to lower one’s risk of developing cancer of the lungs, the mouth, the colon, and others.
According to a recent study from the Ohio State University, however, combinations of certain ingredients may decrease the anticancer properties of lycopene. More specifically, it was iron-rich foods that seemed to decrease the amount of lycopene absorbed into the blood by half.
In this study, the researchers gave participants different combinations of foods, namely meals that contained both iron and tomato extract and those that only contained the tomato extract. After some time, the researchers drew blood samples to see how many apo‐lycopenoids they would find. Apo‐lycopenoids are compounds that appear in our blood after it metabolizes lycopene.
The consistent findings showed a clear picture: there was double the amount of apo‐lycopenoids in the blood of those participants who only had the tomato meal compared to the participants who had the iron and tomato meal. It seems that the iron contained in these foods somehow prevented the cancer-fighting lycopene from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
For the consumer, this would mean that they are getting only half the normal amount of lycopene in a meal that includes both tomatoes and iron-rich foods, cutting down the expected cancer protection by half.
How Do I Combine Tomatoes and Iron Rich Foods in My Diet?
We think we can all agree that giving up on iron-rich foods in lieu of tomatoes is nonsense, as we need iron in our daily diet to stay healthy. Thankfully, you don’t have to do that to be able to get all the anticancer benefits of tomatoes anyway, you just have to be clever about which ingredients to combine.
The idea is that you shouldn’t combine iron and tomatoes IN ONE MEAL, so just separate the two as much as you can and avoid taking an iron supplement or a multivitamin that contains iron right after a meal.
Above you can find a list of foods that are the richest in iron, but also keep in mind that oatmeal, cereals and many plant milks are sometimes fortified with iron. To get the most of your tomatoes, you’ll have to separate them from meats, fish and legumes, as well as spinach and eggs.
Unfortunately, this would make spaghetti and meatballs, as well as shrimp cocktail and certain pizza varieties not the best choice, but we’re convinced that the extra cancer protection is worth it, especially considering that cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide and the number one cause of death in the US at the moment.